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Last Sunday US deputy defense secretary Paul Wolfowitz appeared on television networks to peddle the Bush administration’s new line about why it invaded Iraq. It is now asserted by every Washington mouthpiece, loudly and persistently, that Bush went to war on Iraq to combat terrorism. The strident and terrifying pronouncements by Cheney, Rice, Bush, Powell and Rumsfeld about vast quantities of Iraqi nuclear, biological and chemical weapons, and ballistic missiles to deliver them, are now, well, perhaps not quite as accurate as they were when they were made. I’m waiting for someone to regale us with the wonderful phrase of the Nixon years, when another president told the American people lie after lie after lie. It was : "This is the operative statement. The others are inoperative".
A massive number of Americans–most of them ordinary people like you and me–believe sincerely that the former Iraqi government committed the atrocities in September 2001 when 3000 people were killed in New York and Washington by (mainly) Saudi Arabian terrorists. There is no evidence that Iraq was in the slightest way connected with these horrific attacks, yet US soldiers in Iraq told reporters that the war was "payback time for 9-11". They still display slogans to that effect on their helmets. They believe it because they were encouraged to do so by an effective propaganda campaign initiated in the White House.
It is on this idealistic acceptance of well-presented manipulation of truth, combined with the fervent and genuine patriotism of average American citizens, that slime like Wolfowitz are capitalising. Mind you, perhaps Wolfowitz actually does believe what he is saying. If so, he is an even worse case of dementia than hitherto I had thought possible.
The killing of US soldiers in Iraq, announced Wolfowitz, "is a sacrifice that is going to make our children and our grandchildren safer, because the battle to win the peace in Iraq now is the central battle in the war on terrorism." It would be difficult to identify a more specious piece of nauseating tripe uttered by a Washington figure in recent years. This was a contemptible bid to manipulate the patriotic hearts and minds of the American people who stand on the verge of questioning the lies they have been told for so long. The US military occupation of Iraq has nothing–nothing whatever–to do with combating al Qaeda and international terrorism. The deaths of occupation troops have not made anyone safer, never mind American children and grandchildren–the children and grandchildren that these dead youngsters will never have. Some of the older soldiers who have been killed–those over the age of twenty or so–had fathered children. But they will never be seen again by their sons and daughters.
Soldiers are dying, Wolfowitz, you latter-day McNamara, because Iraq was invaded, and because Iraqis object to humiliation by occupation forces. It is as simple as that. Every time there is an incident of houses being burst into by US troops in the dead of night, and terrified, innocent residents being hooded and handcuffed, there is enormous reaction against America throughout the country. Every time the women of a household are subjected to indignity there is revulsion everywhere in Iraq. (And far beyond, of course, throughout the Islamic world–and elsewhere.)
Washington continues to claim that attacks on US troops are caused only by anti-American extremists. Well, they may be extremists, and, obviously, they are anti-American. But let us reflect for a moment on the feelings of a young Iraqi man whose country has been invaded. Whether or not he was a member of the Ba’ath party, whether or not he was in the army, he is an Iraqi citizen. As we keep being told by such as Wolfowitz, Cheney, Bush and Rumsfeld, one should be proud of one’s nation. Just so. And although these young men most probably loathe Saddam Hussein, they are still Iraqis, born and bred, and proud of their heritage. Wolfowitz and the rest of the Bush extremists cannot understand that an ordinary Iraqi could and can be proud to the extent that he actually objects to invasion and occupation of his country and can be furious about the bombing and gross mistreatment of peaceful citizens. It is vital that this sort of person be brought on side, but every random killing by the apparently unaccountable and out-of-control ‘Task Force 20’ drives them further away.
I have a September 1945 edition of the Illustrated London News in which there are photographs of US soldiers in a German vault examining the records of eight million members of the Nazi Party. (A tenth of the population of Germany –including Sudetenland and Austria–joined the party between 1933 and 1945.) Naturally the occupation forces did not instantly alienate and condemn 8 million people to poverty by forbidding them to continue in government appointments. The allies had more common-sense than that. It was obvious that by far the majority had joined the Party because their livelihoods depended on it. So during the occupation most former Party members were employed to re-establish democracy and restore the economy, in which endeavours they assisted most effectively.
Just as in Nazi Germany it was beneficial to be a Nazi, in Ba’athist Iraq it was economically advantageous to join the Ba’ath. But the US viceroy sacked every Ba’ath official and disbanded the army, thereby setting back the administration and security of the country by about a decade, and, of more importance, creating a large group of suddenly poor and thus instantly disaffected young and middle-aged Iraqis who hate America. This was the single most stupid action taken by the occupying power. In the main it is these young Iraqis, with access to weapons, and with despair and hatred in their hearts, who are ambushing and killing occupation troops.
A Reuters’ despatch records that "Lieutenant General Ricardo Sanchez, whose troops usually blame the attacks on die-hard Saddam loyalists, said the sophistication of the raids had increased over the last 30 days. "This is what I would call a terrorist magnet where America, being present here in Iraq, creates a target of opportunity if you will," Sanchez [said]."
A terrorist magnet? What does he mean? Apparently what he thinks he means–or what he has been told to say by the Pentagon–is "The key that we must not lose sight of is that we must win this battle here in Iraq. Otherwise America will find itself taking on these terrorists at home." Selling the contrived message about terrorism just as brazenly as Wolfowitz, he declared "We have to understand that we have a multiple-faceted conflict going on here in Iraq. We’ve got terrorist activity, we’ve got former regime leadership, we have criminals, and we have some hired assassins that are attacking our soldiers on a daily basis." "Hired assassins"? Who are they? Who hires them? There is no public evidence that any such element is operating in Iraq. As for "terrorist activity", the recently-appointed commander Central Command, General Abizaid, has said that the war in Iraq is "now a classical guerrilla-type campaign". Whom do we believe? General Sanchez, who is following the line of the Vietnam draft-dodger defense academic Wolfowitz, or General Abizaid?
Where is the link between guerrilla strikes and the warning by Wolfowitz that if the US does not "win" in Iraq, it will "find itself taking on these terrorists at home"? His contention is contradictory and confusing, to put it mildly.
But in the classic propaganda ploy, intended to convince the American public that the deaths of US soldiers are necessary, the threat has to be presented as personal. Just as Bush and Rice tried to frighten the American people (and largely succeeded) by making emotional and dramatic declarations that there would be "mushroom clouds" from Iraqi nuclear weapons, so the false Iraq-to-terrorism link is intended to make their flesh creep.
In striving to sell the new rationale for occupying Iraq as the "central battle" in a valiant anti-terrorist campaign, Wolfowitz declared that the attacks on the USS Cole at Aden in 2000 and the US army barracks in Saudi Arabia in 1996 were the fault of Iraq because "Americans killed in these attacks were in the region as part of efforts to contain Iraq." This bizarre allegation is the product of an overtaxed mind. No doubt there are terrorists plotting hideous mayhem in and against America. But Wolfowitz’s claims that the deaths of US soldiers in Iraq are "a sacrifice . . . you’d have to expect" in order to free America of the threat of terrorism is unbelievable bunkum.
Is this your operative statement, Wolfowitz? Or perhaps your personal sacrifice?
BRIAN CLOUGHLEY writes about defense issues for CounterPunch, Dawn and other international publications. He can be reached at: email@example.com